It was a cold, winter night in downtown Boston. The wind was gusting about 20 miles an hour when I slipped and almost fell on the icy sidewalk. Years of experience showing my ski films in this part of the country had prepared me for an auditorium likely not even half full. Much to my surprise, the high school auditorium was standing room only because of the hard work of my sponsor.
He was running a ski program out of downtown Boston in a really tough part of town. He was able to scavenge, beg or borrow used or obsolete rental ski equipment from several of the ski shops in Boston. Armed with skis, boots and poles he was then able to promote the use of several vans from a local automobile agency and an airport service company. He was introducing inner city kids from very poor families to the greatest sport in the world.
The black leader of this ski club required that the young boys and the few girls who joined his ski program to bring a note describing where they earned the five dollars, how they earned it and have it signed by the person that paid them.
I was so impressed with his program that I started working the telephone in my hotel room the next day and was able to get 25 pairs of Hart skis with bindings and 25 pairs of ski boots donated from my old friend Jim Wolner.
After showing my personally narrated ski movie that night, this energetic and kind sponsor and I walked to his office where we started counting the tickets and money. We talked about freedom and how difficult it was for the inner-city kids to ever get to a ski hill.
The sponsor told me that he had been skiing for six years and quite often he would be the only black person on the hill and quite often the only black person at the ski resort itself.
I told him about the large black ski club in Washington, DC with over 2,000 members who came to Vail almost every year for a week or two. I told him that I would send him contact information so he could get in touch with them and maybe join them for a week in Vail that winter.
Having lived every winter since 1946 at ski resorts all over the world, I never thought a lot about the lack of diversity of skiers at the resorts I visited until that night. This person was changing lives by offering a five-dollar package that along with ticket to the movie, included a rope tow ticket, the use of ski equipment, transportation and the lunch of a hot dog and a bottle of Coca-Cola.
Ask anyone if they can remember their first day on skis. If it was after the age of 5, they will remember everything about it: which mountain they went to, how they got there, who they went with, the clothes they wore, even the food they ate that first day.
Our conversation lasted for many hours and, for a short time, my new friend let his anger over segregation get the best of him.
I told him I had gone to a 100 percent white high school in Hollywood, California, and that I had no experience with segregation, even while I was in the Navy. I had no black men in my platoon, nor on the ship I served on in the South Pacific.
That night in Boston happened about 50 years ago and I hope that he continued to change people’s lives with that low-cost ski experience. And I hope that I changed a few with my ski films.
I can no longer ski down a hill looking through the lens of a camera while pointing it back between my legs. But may I suggest that you take a non-skiing friend skiing, and change their lives?
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